Not every big league player pans out. At least, not right away.
For some, it takes time, years of hard work and practice. However, the NFL is a business, after all, and if you just aren’t getting it done, you won’t get paid. As we approach the 2013 campaign, a few guys come to mind that need to make a big time statement this year. The pressure is on, and they have much to prove to their real life team, as well as fantasy owners everywhere.
Josh Freeman, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Entering the fifth and final year of his rookie contract, Freeman has been hit or miss at times. It’s frustrating because he has such great talent and upside. At times, we have seen outstanding flashes of how good this guy can be. Take last season, for instance. Freeman had a six-game stretch of fantasy brilliance, making him the talk of the town. During that span, he averaged 285 passing yards per contest and tossed 16 touchdowns. However, Freeman has looked poor more often than not. Over the past three seasons, no quarterback has thrown more interceptions (39) than Freeman, and his 54.8 completion percentage is atrocious. Also, the only quarterback with a worse quarterback rating when under pressure was the infamous Mark Sanchez. You’d think Freeman, a guy who has the ability to move out of the pocket, would be better in that regard. But he hasn’t. His accuracy has been erratic at best, and often misreads opposing defenses. Still, despite all of the negative, I do believe Freeman has the tools and talent around him to be a very relevant fantasy signal caller. After all, he did finish as the number 13 option at his position, despite only scoring 14.7 fantasy points per contest. Imagine his production if he can spike those per game numbers. The talent is there. A legitimate number one option in Vincent Jackson, a touchdown machine in Mike Williams and one of the best young backs in the game, Doug Martin. The offensive line is improved and healthy, so it’s all on Freeman’s shoulders to produce. With 2013 thrid round pick Mike Glennon suddenly breathing down his neck, it may be now or never for Freeman.
Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams: We’re still waiting, Sam… Former number one overall pick, Bradford has yet to produce like one. Granted, he has been injured at times, but you’d still expect more out of a highly touted gunslinger like Bradford. He’s only thrown over 20 touchdowns once (2012) and is sporting an awful career completion percentage of 58.3. Sure, he hasn’t had the greatest weapons to work with, and has been sacked 71 times over the last two seasons, but if there were any year for Bradford to breakout, it would be this one. The Rams went out and acquired a boatload of speed for Bradford to utilize. They traded up to select speedy wideout Tavon Austin, signed Jared Cook in free agency and already have fast guys such as Chris Givens and Brian Quick. Many are saying they are attempting to recreate “The Greatest Show on Turf”, and while that remains to be seen, they are at least trying to help their investment from 2010. As for his protection, the team also brought in Jake Long, a massive guy who has only allowed 37 career sacks. As long as Bradford is healthy, there should be no excuses this season.
Isaiah Pead, St. Louis Rams: What about Bradford’s teammate? During his rookie campaign in 2012, Pead was a major disappointment. So much, in fact, that at one point, Daryl Richardson actually leap-frogged ahead of him on the team depth chart. Pead carried the ball just 10 times, and actually fumbled once. His struggles landed him on the bench for the majority of the season, and now, Pead will be serving a one-game suspension to start his sophomore season. However, despite a rough start to his career, head coach Jeff Fisher isn’t giving up on him. Pead will have to show Fisher that he is focused and ready to take on the challenges of being a starting back in this league. He has some ground to catch on the Richardson and rookie Zac Stacy, however. It’ll be interesting to see how this running back situation shapes out.
Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders: You saw this coming, as McFadden has been a fantasy headache for years now. Injuries have kept him off the field, but even when he did suit up last year, he struggled, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. The zone-blocking scheme was not very kind to McFadden. It forced him to often run sideways, rather than downhill. Well, no more. Newly appointed offensive coordinator Greg Olson will be returning to a power-running scheme, one that has suited well with McFadden in the past. The last time McFadden operated out of this scheme, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry, rushed for his only 1,000-yard season and scored seven touchdowns. There is definitely hope for the talented back, but he needs to prove he isn’t as brittle as he has lead on. In five seasons, he’s missed a whopping 23 games. It’s also a contract year for McFadden, so if he stays healthy, he could be in for a productive season, which could lead him to getting paid in the offseason.
Kenny Britt, Tennessee Titans: When healthy, I swear Britt could be one of the better wideouts in the game today. He has an elite combination of size and speed, as well as strong hands, but durability has been a major concern for the Rutgers product. Last year, Britt tore his left meniscus and in 2011, tore both his ACL and MCL just three games into the season. During that season, Britt got off to a dominating start. In his first (and only) three games, Britt caught 17 balls for 289 yards and three scores, declaring himself as one of the top fantasy wideouts during that time. Clearly there is top-15 upside here, but the Titans have selected receivers (Wright, Hunter) in their last two drafts, and with Britt entering a contract year, perhaps they are planning for life without him. This could very well be a make-or-break 2013 for Britt.
Torrey Smith, Baltimore Ravens: Entering that magical third year, Smith will be the clear-cut number one receiver in Baltimore. But will he perform like one? Anquan Boldin is gone, so there will likely be more targets headed Smiths’ way, but he has been so hot and cold from a fantasy perspective. He may have the big play potential, but when he doesn’t hit a home run, Smith is tough to start in fantasy. Last year, he posted eight games with two catches or fewer, resulting in a pedestrian 49-catch campaign. Smith also scored five or fewer fantasy points eight times. Teammate Ray Rice described Smith as a “complete receiver”, and that’s exactly what I’d like to see him become in 2013. He’ll have to step up and lead this Ravens’ aerial attack.
Adam Pfeifer is a featured fantasy sports columnist for Rant Sports.
You can follow him on Twitter @aPfeiferRS.